The Poverty of Libertarianism
I love liberty, being an American and all. I think that the freedom to do what you want to do (within reasonable moral limits) is the staple of a thriving society. That’s why I get very upset about things like the prohibition of Cannabis, because I feel as though history should have taught the human race that prohibition is the wrong way to deal with problems, and will only serve to worsen the problems that existed before. I also think that we should each reap the rewards of our labor, and that we shouldn’t be forced to pay for things we don’t want to pay for.
But I’m not a libertarian. You see, having to pay for things I don’t want to pay for (death penalty, war in Iraq) sucks, and prohibition is really frustrating and annoying, but these problems are so incredibly insignificant compared to everything else going on in the world that it would be selfish of me to focus on them only. I mean, seriously, there are people starving out there, others enslaved, raped, murdered… the world is full of suffering, and if I can’t see past my minor inconveniences to help these people then I’m not a very good human being.
And that’s what it all comes down to, helping people. I’m not saying that libertarians don’t want to help people, I think humans are all built to be attentive to each other’s needs, I’m saying that libertarians are running too far away from our responsibility to each other.
What a lot of this debate comes down to, at least in domestic affairs (welfare, affirmative action) is between giving a man a fish and teaching him to fish. The latter is of course desirable, because then that man can support himself, and we can all be happy contributors to society. But taking welfare away from people is not the same as teaching them to fish, it’s only taking the fish away that we’ve been giving them. One might say that tough love is the best way to teach people to be self reliant, but it’s also a quick way to starve someone if they are incapable of self reliance.
But why should someone not be able to be self reliant in this day and age? After all, information is free. You can walk into a library, study, and get better and better jobs, improving your lot in life. All you need is a bit of motivation, right?
So… all countries living in poverty are lacking motivation, and black people, who are statistically of lower socioeconomic status than white people, are less motivated than white people, right? Uh oh, we’re being racist.
You see, nothing is intrinsic (or everything is). Motivation comes from the environment, from learning that you have to do what is necessary. I wouldn’t be the motivated person I am today if I didn’t grow up in a very very privileged place in society where I had support and encouragement from family, and lots of free time. If I lived in the Ghetto, having to work minimum wage all day and into the night to support a family, or in an alley addicted to crack, I wouldn’t have time to go to the library to read, I might not even be able to read, or have a library nearby. If you want to teach a man to fish, actually do it, don’t say he should teach himself.
You’ve probably noticed how no tea-partiers are black (well, some have black skin, but make enough money and participate in white culture). A survey of the tea party movement found them to be richer and more educated than average America, in other words, privileged. I am the prime demographic for a libertarian minded individual, and I know how one arrives at libertarian conclusions, but I must say that this needs to end. There is more at stake in the world than my “freedom,” there are people who are actually living in dictatorships, not the kind where we call our democratically elected president who has very little power a “dictator.” There are places where if you are caught smoking pot, or drinking, or being gay, you will be put to death.
Freedom is something that people think about when they have enough food and shelter to start thinking. Until we all have this privilege, this ability to think about things beyond our own survival, each of us are responsible for helping each other, and there is no way around this.